For ThinkProgress, Any Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy is “Anti-American Propaganda”
Ben Armbruster, national security editor for ThinkProgress, wrote yesterday that neoconservative pundits and politicians have resorted to promoting Iranian rhetoric in their zealous campaign to discredit and derail President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
He pointed to the eager promotion by many right-wingers of an article with a misleading headline from CBS News reporting that Obama’s pick has been applauded by the Iranian government while “causing jitters in Israel.” The CBS News piece notes a statement made at a press conference by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, presumably in response to the Hagel nomination, that was first reported by Iran’s IRIB news service and then picked up by Reuters. Here’s the statement:
“We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.”
Based on the hysterical reaction of the anti-Hagel echo chamber, Armbruster concluded, “[I]t’s sad the neocons have become so desperate in their anti-Hagel smear campaign that they’re now promoting anti-American propaganda from Iran’s foreign ministry to make their case.”
Yes, Armbruster apparently believes that a boilerplate comment made by an Iranian official is “anti-American propaganda.”
While the Iranian Foreign Ministry surely engages in its fair share of propaganda, just like any government does, this particular statement can’t possibly be classified as such, especially when Obama’s selection of Hagel has been widely interpreted as potentially heralding in a “policy shift on Iran.” Even Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione suggested today that, with Hagel and Kerry in his Cabinet, Obama “is positioning himself to make the dramatic change in national security policy.”
Nevertheless, it seems that, for Armbruster, any criticism whatsoever of U.S. foreign policy is “anti-American propaganda,” at least when it comes from the mouths of Iranians.
Yet, for anyone paying even moderate attention to history and facts, that U.S. foreign policy – especially with regard to Iran and the wider Middle East – has been aggressive, imperialistic, often times illegal, and incontrovertibly violent and counterproductive is hardly controversial.
A year ago, Suzanne Maloney – a former U.S. State Department policy adviser and currently a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution – argued in Foreign Affairs that Obama’s sanctions policy has cornered his administration into a pointless regime change posture with no chance for successful diplomacy. She wrote, “Indeed, the United States cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy,” thereby putting its stated goals fundamentally at odds with its tactics.
“What needs to be addressed is the disturbing reality that the Obama administration’s approach offers no viable endgame for dealing with Iran’s current leadership,” Maloney warned, concluding that “American policy is now effectively predicated on achieving political change in Tehran” which “will likely prove even more elusive than productive talks.”
So, here we have an establishment scholar and analyst calling American policy toward Iran “counterproductive” and “disturbing.” Does Armbruster believe Maloney is trafficking in “anti-American propaganda”?
Just yesterday, it was reported that a former Obama counter-terrorism adviser has described the president’s drone policy as counter-productive and ineffective in a forthcoming study for the Chatham House journal International Affairs. Michael Boyle, who was part of Obama’s counter-terrorism team during his 2008 election campaign, writes that the administration’s increased reliance on drone killing is “encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent” and has “adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists.”
Boyle also calls for greater transparency of the government’s actions, as most Americans are still “unaware of the scale of the drone programme…and the destruction it has caused in their name.” Whereas Obama, during his first presidential run, pledged to end the so-called “war on terror” and restore respect for the domestic and international law, Boyle explains that Obama “has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor” and far more secretive, lethal and unaccountable.
Naturally, with conclusions like these, Armbruster must believe Boyle is just spouting “anti-American propaganda,” right? Was retired war criminal General Stanley McChrystal also spewing propaganda when he recently spoke out about Obama’s policy of robot murder, noting that such policy creates “resentment,” is “hated on a visceral level,” and that it perpetuates the “perception of American arrogance.” And that’s coming from the guy who, reacting to the rampant killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. troops at checkpoints, said in 2010, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people…and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat.”
Surely, Armbruster will take McChrystal to task for his anti-American nonsense in a future post.
Furthermore, returning to the comments of Mehmanparast, that the victim of drone surveillance, terrorist attacks, cyber–warfare, industrial sabotage, collective punishment of a civilian population and the latest target for Western-imposed regime change might believe American foreign policy could use some “practical changes” is natural and obvious.
That the United States has bullied international organizations into adopting policies that either abrogate or dismiss international law is beyond doubt. That Iran’s inalienable right to enrich uranium as part of a monitored and safeguarded civilian nuclear program is being actively denied is also not up for debate.
These are facts.
But Ben Armbruster seems not to care about facts. As a dutiful ThinkProgress employee, he seems to care about defending the Obama administration, justifying its policies, and taking down its detractors. He also appears to adhere strictly to the mainstream script that anything Iran does or says is inherently dubious and usually nefarious, regardless of how true or uncontroversial it may be.
When asked about his strange classification of Mehmanparast’s statement, Armbruster explained that the suggestion that the United States might not be “respectful of the rights of nations” qualifies, by his criteria, as “anti-American propaganda.” When asked whether he honestly believed the United States to be respectful of the rights of foreign countries, Armbruster doubled-down. “Yes I do,” he replied. “Now that doesn’t mean the US is perfect. But in this case, yes, Iran is attacking the US.”
By Armbruster’s standards, stating unequivocal facts, raising doubts over America’s benevolence, questioning its respect for international law and the sovereignty of other nations, and criticizing decades of imperialism, war, occupation, bullying and threats is tantamount to an “attack” in the form of “anti-American propaganda.”
But, of course, Mehmanparast hardly said any of that. His comments were non-specific and, quite frankly, tame. But, hey, they were probably uttered in the Persian language, so that’s enough for Armbruster to dismiss and delegitimize them as a blustery rant. Ironically, in so doing – by labeling a reasonable critique of U.S. foreign policy as “anti-American propaganda” – Armbruster has become a propagandist himself, shilling for American exceptionalism, hypocrisy and overall obliviousness.